I Hate Summer, I Hate Being Outside, I Hate the Hell’s Angels, I Hate Other Kids —
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Fun Ticket by Bettina McElvey
When I say my dad is a traveling musician, it’s my euphemism for saying he’s an extremely skilled guitarist who has been couch-surfing for almost 25 years. I love him, and know he did his best, but transience just isn’t conducive to safe, non-traumatizing weekend visits. Every Friday night, my siblings and I each packed a pillow case with a change of clothes and waited for our dad to arrive and drive us in his half-dead car to yet another strange location, like a basement bachelor apartment with creased pin-ups of Cindy Crawford affixed to the walls with thumb tacks; or an office space in the middle of a remodel, dozens of desks shrouded in plastic tarps; or the wedding receptions of strangers.
For a couple years in the early ’90s, my dad’s main source of income was the band-for-hire he formed with a group of friends. They played serviceable covers of contemporary pop hits at all sorts of events and parties, but wedding receptions were their specialty. My siblings and I dressed up in the matching church clothes our mom sewed for us, feasted on hunks of wedding cake we ripped off with our bare hands while the grownups weren’t looking, and temporarily befriended whatever weird little kids we met that night. One of these short-lived friendships is with a girl named Monique, who had a backpack full of Barbies with her. We set up camp beneath a buffet table and acted out our own Barbie wedding. And once the nuptials were complete, Monique announced, “OK, now Ken takes Barbie home and he rapes her.”
One summer my dad lived in a tree house in the woods in Skagit County. The “tree house” was nothing more than a sheet of plywood wedged into an old tree, with a vinyl shower curtain draped over some branches to protect us from the elements. Thankfully, it was summertime so there was a certain romance to sleeping outdoors. I told myself it was just like Swiss Family Robinson, that we were scrappy and resourceful and living off the land. This thought comforted me in those moments when the ruggedness got too real, like when my sister and I had to bathe in a freezing creek, lathering up with Salon Selectives shampoo as we cried our eyes out and howled, “WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO COLD?”
I sometimes thought about my mom during that period, and how worried she must have been: her children leaving the safety of the home she made for them, a place with beds and walls and running water, and then returning two days later, dirty, sun-burned, smelling like campfire and boasting that they’d eaten s’mores for dinner.
One weekend my dad’s band was hired to play a Hell’s Angels Fourth of July barbecue. We could see it was a legitimate Hell’s Angels barbecue as soon as we arrived. They were roasting an actual pig on a spit in the backyard — a glistening, skewered carcass with both its eyes still intact, a creature whose final moments were filled with absolute terror and agonizing physical pain. My sisters and I took a moment to cry and say inarticulate child prayers for the pig, then pulled ourselves together and tried to settle in at the biker party.
Everywhere we looked, sunburned, bearded men with tangled hair and sleeveless denim jackets wandered through the dead grass with their hot, snaggle-toothed, bra-less biker girlfriends, kissing so hard that we could see their tongues. One of these bearded men was obviously the leader of these Hell’s Angels because he had the longest, grayest beard. He tore tiny pieces off a brown paper grocery bag and told the kids they were “Fun Tickets.” To get a Fun Ticket, you had to kiss him on the cheek.
And I did it. I kissed his gray, grizzled, beer-damp cheek and I got my Fun Ticket. My Fun Ticket was redeemable for just one prize, and that was a single Rocket Chocolate, a bite-sized morsel of chocolate filled with trucker speed that you can find at any rural gas station. I ate the chocolate and abandoned my sisters to go play with some Hell’s Angels children. It did not go well. I was a timid indoor kid. The Hell’s Angels kids were reckless and feral and they liked danger. One of the Hell’s Angels kids, who couldn’t have been older than 7, tip-toed around the party sneaking sips off the beers the adults weren’t watching, then aggressively tried to grope and French kiss his teenage sister.
A bunch of them ran into some tall grass to collect enormous slugs that they threw into a pile and covered in salt, then they force-fed the slimy remains to some unfortunate dog. Then night fell, and the Hell’s Angels kids tossed handfuls of bottle rockets into a bonfire. The fireworks shot off in every direction as the wild biker children cackled and I ran for my life into some bushes. I crouched low to the ground, jamming my fingers into my ears. I was crying, I was shaking (because of the Rocket Chocolate), and I was whispering to myself “I hate summer, I hate being outside, I hate the Hell’s Angels, I hate other kids,” when my dad found me.
Even in the dark I could recognize my dad’s slender arms calmly picking me up from the ground and carrying my trembling form out of the rowdy biker party. I spent the night swaddled in his denim jacket in the back seat of his car. It was still dark when I woke up to his voice ordering food at a McDonald’s drive-thru. He saw I was awake and ordered me a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. I ate it slowly as we merged onto a near-empty freeway and the sun rose, turning the light around us pale, pale blue.